Monday, March 04, 2013

OBCs and Affirmative Action - I

I know this person for many years now. First time when he sent me a joke against the reservation system, I was stunned. I understand he comes from an Other Backward Caste (the castes eligible for the reservations) and more over is a beneficiary of the system. In fact, my other friends had grumbled that his elder brother was also a beneficiary. Their main grouse was that they were an affluent landholding family with some other business ventures too. The other day, I saw him repeating the act.

I view affirmative action or the reservation system as a way to improve cultural capital of the castes who didn't have traditional educational background. I would define cultural capital as the opportunity to imitate the people with whom you can identify. The way I see it, the son of, say, a sweeper from a privileged caste with an average intelligence  has more deterministic determination to succeed than that from a faceless caste with the similar intelligence level even after overlooking influence/nepotism/favouritism factors. I even support financially blind affirmative action as I believe because of the nature of the caste system they have limited worldview and the amount of money doesn't change it. In this respect I don't agree with the 'creamy layer' concept too though the Indian Supreme Court considers it a valid clause.

However, I wonder how many from Dalit and OBC backgrounds understand and appreciate the reason behind the reservation system. I don't remember studying the social and financial impact of the caste system and the untouchability while in school. Maybe the topics are too advanced for primary and high school students. I suppose the pupils who have faced first hand caste discrimination or the pupils who have heard first hand accounts of caste discrimination from their kith and kin can understand it. How about others? Especially the ones from the OBC background?

Before that, do I really need to expect that students should think about the reason behind affirmative action? Even otherwise, mechanically using the opportunities and reaching certain positions achieves the purpose of creating cultural capital for their castes. But there are other situations. They have to constantly address injustices faced by few privileged individuals. They have to develop thick skin sense of humour in the face of hateful jokes about being non-meritorious.

Again does it matter? They can become defiant for the single reason that they know their caste is not considered  number one. Any deep understanding isn't necessary.

Another question is, what percentage of OBCs have benefited from the system. Considering their huge number and limited opportunities, I would guess the beneficiary number could be very small. So, likely, majority wouldn't identify with it anyway.

Another mindset, which could be called corrupt, is, "I don't bother why, but I got benefited; so, who cares?" I suppose these people can even join the fun as they could be least bothered.

But from my interactions with him, I don't see him belonging to that last category. The one important character that defines his personality is his hard core support to the Hindutva cause. If you check the Hindutva crowd from the privileged castes, one thing that defines them is their vulgar hatred against Muslims, Christians, Leftists, Secularists, and affirmative action. Actually, they get whole-hearted support in the last from the privileged sections of Muslims and Christians too, similar to their confluence of minds in the case of sexism.

Now if you are part of that crowd, what would be your mental state? You feel close to them in your hatred against the Muslims but confused about affirmative action. I believe this will result in perversion and my friend is a victim of that.

I believe unless OBCs like these who have benefited from the system move away from their caste identity (which means leaving Hindu identity) they are going to pervert the system from within.

Because of this, I would think there should be some literature, explaining the idea behind affirmative action, for the students from the castes eligible to avail the benefits of it, before they apply for the professional courses.

It, of course, doesn't mean that every OBC would agree with affirmative action or would find it rationally acceptable after s/he has benefited from it(I read about a famous surgeon, I guess a Tamil Muslim, who himself was a beneficiary but talked against the system) . But what we need is articulation against the system out of their own thoughts than merely forwarding the malicious jokes from their privileged friends.  The way I see it, the ignorant perversion of OBCs will hurt them whereas the same from their privileged counterparts is irrelevant.


Anonymous said...

As per classification by the Indian government there is nothing mentioned as `other backward caste'. OBC is expanded as other backward class and that is how Muslims get reservation because Islam per say does not recognise caste system.
In this context, you need to relook at it in a different perspective as Khans and syeds also get reservation.

Manjax Wafer said...

In this context, you need to relook at it in a different perspective as Khans and syeds also get reservation.

Pathans and Syeds aren't part of the OBC. As far as I know, the Khan surname is not specific to Pathans in India (could be the case with Syed too). So, either you are completely ignorant or you have some ulterior motive.

Anyway, I don't read much into the distinction between caste or class when it comes to education. Historically - apart from Brahmins, ruling families and scribe castes - other castes were deprived of education. It's true for many of the dominant feudal castes too in many parts of the country. And their ritual purity was also low. So, I would consider them backward castes anyway.

Since majority of the Muslims were converted and carried the caste identities and prejudices, here too class or caste makes not much difference. But considering Dalit converts have been included under OBC, I suppose the equality in Islam and its ability accord some level of dignity has been acknowledged to a certain degree.